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Originally published Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Conflicting accounts of when deputies identified themselves in Belltown chase

Witnesses have provided conflicting accounts of when two King County sheriff's deputies identified themselves to an Edmonds man who ran from the deputies and suffered life-threatening skull fractures when one knocked him to the ground early Sunday in Belltown.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Witnesses have provided conflicting accounts of when two King County sheriff's deputies identified themselves to an Edmonds man who ran from the deputies. He suffered life-threatening skull fractures when his head struck a concrete wall as one attempted to arrest him early Sunday in Belltown.

Seattle lawyer Sim Osborn, who has been retained by Christopher Harris' family, said both deputies wore black uniforms and yelled to Harris from a half-block away in a darkened alley. He said one witness reported the two deputies didn't identify themselves as law-enforcement officers until after Harris began running down the alley sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday. Osborn said Harris stopped running a few blocks away, apparently after realizing the two men chasing him were deputies.

Other witnesses thought the deputies yelled "police" immediately.

Sgt. John Urquhart, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, declined to discuss details of the case because the investigation is ongoing.

The deputies, who are assigned to Metro Transit, were working the graveyard shift patrolling downtown bus routes and shelters. They were searching for a suspect in connection with the beating and stabbing of a man at a convenience store, but detectives later determined Harris was wrongly identified by a witness and wasn't involved in the assault.

A surveillance camera outside Cinerama, a movie theater at Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street, captured footage of the incident between Harris, 29, and Deputy Matthew Paul, a 26-year-old who has been on the force for almost four years. The video has not been released publicly but was shown to Harris' family, Osborn said.

"Everyone is eager to see the surveillance video from Cinerama," Osborn said. "From what I understand, the video is fairly sickening."

Urquhart said the video will be released to the media once detectives with the department's Major Crimes Unit complete their investigation. He said he has not seen the video.

Osborn hasn't viewed the video either. He said one witness told investigators Harris slowed down or stopped running outside the movie theater, held up his hands and said, "I don't have anything." Osborn said he was told the video shows Paul putting his arms up and barreling into Harris with his body.

"He was blindsided," Osborn said of Harris. "It was not a tackle but an absolute, bone-crushing hit."

Harris' head struck a concrete wall. Since then, he's been in a coma and on life support at Harborview Medical Center. A nursing supervisor said he was in serious condition Tuesday night. His doctors can't give a prognosis, Osborn said.

The Sheriff's Office on Tuesday identified Paul and Joseph Eshom, 28, as the two deputies involved in the incident with Harris. Both deputies were off work on their normal weekend breaks Monday and Tuesday.

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Today, Paul will be placed on paid administrative leave, but Eshom, who is considered a witness, will return to work, Urquhart said.

Paul is "very distraught; he feels terrible, he's upset — and he shouldn't be at work when he's feeling those feelings," Urquhart said, noting that Paul's leave is typical for deputies involved in critical incidents like the one Sunday in Belltown.

Eshom has been with the Sheriff's Office for three years and was a lateral transfer from the Phoenix Police Department, where he was an officer for about two years.

Sheriff Sue Rahr has asked Seattle police to review the investigation once it's completed to ensure it was "thorough, complete and without bias," Urquhart said. Acting Seattle Police Chief John Diaz agreed, he said.

Also, once the investigation is complete, the case will be sent to the sheriff's Internal Affairs Unit to determine whether any policies were violated, Urquhart said.

Urquhart also assured Osborn that the Sheriff's Office wants to get to the truth of what happened.

"I'm going to take them at their word that they have no desire to cover this up and that they want to get to the bottom of it," Osborn said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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